This article took shape thanks to the comments and suggestions of BP readers Tuck and TroJim. The former noted that a column elaborating on some of the larger discrepancies between Mike Gianella’s Top 300 list and current ADP numbers might be a helpful exercise in helping drafters determine value, and I agree. And then in a response to questions about the utility of our Darkhorses series focusing on generally known and highly drafted players, TroJim made the following excellent point: “Like the stock market… some people try to get rich on penny stocks and others find success in discerning which blue chips will perform the best.”
And lo, a column was born. I’m going to focus this article on the players with the largest gaps between our own ranking and ADP from the top 84 names on Mike’s list, as that cutoff represents the top six rounds of a standard 14-team league. I don’t think I’m breaking much ground with this declaration, but the top six rounds of a draft are extremely important rounds. These are your blue chip players, the foundation upon which your team is built. It’s possible to win with an underwhelming start, but it’s awfully difficult.
To that end, variance in rankings at this point in the draft can have a profound effect on the ultimate look of your roster, and it’s worth examining how we came to value players differently than drafters typically have this spring. Below are the players whose ranking on Mike’s list diverges by more than a full round in that hypothetical 14-team standard league.
One final note before diving in, I’d like to make it clear that that these are just one man’s thoughts on these players, and that man is me. The below commentary doesn’t necessarily reflect the exact methodology or decision-making in placing these players where they slotted into the Top 300.
Carlos Gonzalez, OF, COL (BP: 28, ADP 45, Difference: +17)
Yes, last year was an injury-riddled fiasco, and yes, the medical file on his player card includes 28 (not a typo) separate injuries, conditions, and other general maladies that have caused him to miss at least one game since his 2008 big league debut. But it’s important, critically so with a player of Gonzalez’ talent and park-context combination, to not lose the forest for a few tweaked trees. Before last year’s debacle, he’d hit exactly .300 while averaging 26 homers and 20 stolen bases when he was on the field over the three previous seasons. The “when he was on the field” part is what his detractors will point to in noting he logged only 124 games a season during that stretch. But outside of formats that don’t allow in-season add/drops, those remaining at-bats don’t just disappear into the ether. Even if your league is crazy deep and the best you can do as an injury replacement is the 2014 version of Collin Cowgill, the baseline production CarGo gives you when he plays is enough to prop up borderline first-round numbers for the position.
Freddie Freeman, 1B, ATL (BP: 54, ADP: 39, Difference: -15)
The case against Freeman is largely though not entirely contextual. To wit: The Braves offense was bad last year, but their projected .251 team TAv for 2015 is the second-worst in baseball. And that aggregate projection includes Freeman’s .301 mark. Remove it for the sake of examining his lineup support, and Freeman pretty clearly figures to be surrounded by the most counting stat-depressive collection of “talent” out of any hitter in consideration for the single-digit rounds. Last year’s 171 R+RBI figures to be a ceiling if everything breaks right.
For his own part, while line-drive rate is one of the more volatile batted-ball results year to year, it’s probably safe to say at this point that Freeman is an extreme line-drive hitter. His way-above-average BABIP numbers (and correspondingly strong batting averages) over the past couple seasons aren’t entirely unsustainable given the batted-ball profile, and yet… how do I put this? He’s hitting too many line drives to fully tap into his over-the-fence power. He was unlucky last year insofar as his low HR:FB rate didn’t jibe with his career-best batted-ball distance, but he’s put fewer and fewer balls in the air over the past couple seasons.
Bottom line, could a significant power spike come next season for Freeman? Sure. But buying him in the top 40 requires you to not only assume it will come but that it will also be significant enough to offset likely counting stat loss.
Dee Gordon, 2B, MIA (BP: 58, ADP: 40, Difference: -18)
I won’t spend too much time on Devaris here, as I already made the case against getting too excited about him in our Players to Avoid series a few weeks back. For those too lazy to click that link, the basic punchline is that he didn’t sustain his early season gains in contact rate (particularly against fastballs) as the season wore on, and his terrible on-base skills leave him highly dependent on batted ball outcomes to generate all of his value. At some point in a draft 40-plus stolen bases are 40-plus stolen bases. But as a low-third rounder in a 14-team league, the volatility of his profile entails way more risk than you should be taking on so early.
Charlie Blackmon, OF, COL (BP: 60, ADP: 74, Difference: +14)
An awful lot of people appear to have been scared off by Blackmon’s regression following a scorching hot start to the season, but really there aren’t a ton of warning signs under the hood that he’s in danger of collapsing. He’s an aggressive hitter, but he’s also one that makes decent contact and, for lack of a better option, appears poised to head the Rockies lineup again for the vast majority of their 162 games this season. See, the thing about the Rockies… half those games will be in Coors Field, where Blackmon hit .331/.391/.524 last season. Actual park-adjusted offensive value isn’t really a concern in fantasy land, and Blackmon’s combination of contact skills, power, speed, and ballpark/lineup context make him a much stronger play than general consensus appears to believe.
Victor Martinez, 1B, DET (BP: 70, ADP: 48, Difference: -22)
Before I get into some of the reasons that V-Mart is a poorer value this season than his current ADP, I’d like to start by saying he’s one of my favorite hitters to watch in… geez, the history of televised baseball, I guess. He’s one of a handful of guys around with a true 80-grade hit tool, and that he does it with no platoon split as a switch hitter is downright amazing.
But… he’s also 36, coming off knee surgery from which he’s still “running with a hitch” two weeks before Opening Day, and a year removed from posting a HR:FB rate that more than doubled his two previous seasons. The AVG is a borderline lock to be north of .300 if he’s healthy, but the health isn’t guaranteed. And last year’s power output is a similarly borderline lock to decline precipitously, especially since the health of his lower half isn’t guaranteed. As a starting first baseman in the fourth round the downside risk here is just greater than I’m willing to endure for the safety blanket of a high average.
David Wright, 3B, NYM (BP: 71, ADP: 102, Difference: +31)
Shoulder injuries are scary things, particularly when they’re of the front shoulder variety for a hitter with David Wright’s swing mechanics. In Wright’s case a balky rotator cuff sustained after an awkward landing on a dive in June really sapped his power stroke, and he was never quite right. Especially given that the Mets medical staff was involved in his rehab program, I get the conservativism. At the same time, there just aren’t many third basemen out there capable of matching Wright’s .290 TAv, let alone doing it with double-digit homers and steals. Injury risk has always been built into Wright’s profile, as he’s been among the guys more prone to miss time in recent years. But for the first time since he was a wee lad the risks appear to be outweighing the (likely if healthy) rewards for drafters seeking Wright’s services. As the eleventh third baseman off the board currently the potential for surplus value here is significant.
Jake Arrieta, SP CHC (BP: 75, ADP: 103, Difference: +28)
I don’t really have much to add to the case Bret laid out for Arrieta in his Target piece a couple weeks ago, so I’d encourage you to bask in its glow while you consider Arrieta for the top of your rotation. The gains he made in deploying his stuff were real last year, and they were spectacular. The question mark here is health, and that’s the question mark for every single starting pitcher on the planet.
Prince Fielder, 1B TEX (BP: 76, ADP: 57, Difference: -19)
I wrote up my concerns with Fielder’s draft price a couple weeks back, and a couple “healthy” weeks of Spring Training haven’t really done much to alter my concerns. Yes, Peyton Manning came back from a similar fusion procedure to (cough briefly cough) produce at a high level in a contact-oriented sport. But Fielder’s entire value is predicated on his ability to reproduce a violent swing with extreme torque literally thousands of times over the course of a grinding seven-plus month season. The risk here is extreme, and not just the risk he reinjures himself. The risk is also that major-league fastballs get a little bit harder to handle for a big-bodied slugger on the wrong side of 30 coming off major surgery.
Kolten Wong, 2B, STL (BP: 78, ADP: 101, Difference: +23)
The case for Wong is relatively simple, and it’s unclear to me why drafters are currently a bearish on him as they are. He hit 12 homers and stole 20 bases (with a strong success rate) last year in just 433 plate appearances, and he generated value despite some contextually poor BABIP luck. His line drive rate crept up as the season wore on, and while his whiff and walk rates didn’t look so hot as pitchers got comfortable with him his minor league track record projects an encouraging pattern of adjustments. The potential for across-the-board production at a weak position really has no business being underrated, and he’s locked in at the Cardinals’ keystone. A profile of 10-15 homers and 25-plus stolen bases with a won’t-kill-you AVG at second doesn’t require much in the way of excess dreaming here, and he should be valued accordingly on your draft board.
Chris Davis, 1B/3B, BAL (BP: 79, ADP: 64, Difference: -15)
I honestly don’t have a ton of analysis to offer on Davis, who I see as being the rare guy on a list like this who would be a perfectly justified selection at either draft position depending on how your particular draft is unfolding. Both ADP and our own ranking reflect an aggressive belief in Davis bouncing back from last year’s catastrophe to become a quality first base option, and I suspect his bonus dual eligibility at third has played a not-small role in helping him retain draft day value. Power bats of his caliber are fewer and farther between than they have been in some time, and I’m absolutely down with hedging off last year’s collapse to project him to reemerge as a 30-plus homer bat in the middle of what should be a solid Baltimore lineup.
Matt Harvey, SP, NYM (BP: 82, ADP: 66, Difference: -16)
Harvey has looked tremendous in spring training, even unveiling a new curveball because it wasn’t already unfair to try and hit against him when he last graced a major-league mound in 2013. Ah, the plot thickens with that final caveat. I’ll let Matt Collins explain the issue at hand from his Starting Pitchers to Avoid piece on this very pitcher: “We all know that Tommy John surgery isn’t nearly the death sentence that it used to be, but that doesn’t mean pitchers automatically come back right away and return to dominance.” The Mets have repeatedly hinted that they won’t have a hard cap on Harvey’s innings, with GM Sandy Alderson mentioning 200 innings as a possibility if the team stands into October.
My issue with Harvey’s aggressive ADP rests less with the concern of a late-season shutdown, however. As noted in the Carlos Gonzalez piece, getting an elite performer for most but not all of the season isn’t necessarily a death sentence given the waiver wire flexibility managers have in most cases to fill lost at-bats or innings. But assuming the 2013 version of Matt Harvey immediately reemerges in April seems an awfully risky proposition, and drafters are currently paying full freight for the privilege of that assumption.